by Kraig Becker
In the world of high altitude mountaineering the fourteen 8000-meter peaks are seen as the pinnacle of climbing. Each of those mountains presents a unique set of challenges that require a high level of skill and dedication to overcome. Most climbers are lucky if they get the chance to scale one or two of those peaks in their lifetime but a very select few have made it their goal to climb all 14 of these mountains, an undertaking that typically takes many years to complete. But recently one climber has announced his intentions to attempt to climb all of those mountains in just two years, a pace that is far faster than anyone has been able to accomplish in the past.
Mountaineer Nick Cienski has dubbed his ambitious endeavor Mission 14, calling it “the world’s toughest expedition.” It’s hard to argue with that assertion when you consider the scope of what he has planned. Over the course of the next two years, he’ll be climbing some of the most challenging mountains on the planet as he attempts to set several records along the way. The most obvious of those records is to become the fastest person to climb each of those 8000 meter peaks, but he also hopes to set a speed record on Everest as well. The current record for climbing that mountain, which is the tallest on the planet at 8848 meter (29,029 ft), was set back in 2004 by Pemba Dorje Sherpa who was able to go from Base Camp to the summit in just 8 hours and 10 minutes.
The first man to climb all 14 of these massive mountains was the great Reinhold Messner. It took him 16 years to accomplish that feat. Since then, another 30 climbers have managed to follow in Messner’s groundbreaking footsteps. The most recent person to complete the list is Korea’s Kim Chang-Ho who wrapped up his final 8000-meter peak earlier this year, reaching the summit of all 14 without the use of supplemental oxygen. It took him 7 years to climb to reach his goal. Five full years longer than Cienski hopes to do it.
Cienski will launch his expedition in the winter of 2014 and will employ a staggering 3780 porters over the course of the two-year journey. High altitude Sherpas will help establish his high camps and fix ropes to the summits, leaving him free to focus on acclimatization and climbing. He’ll use helicopters to travel quickly between mountains that are within the general vicinity of one another and he’ll climb with supplemental oxygen in order to stay as safe and healthy as possible. He’ll need all the help he can get because no one has ever climbed more than 5 of these mountains in a single year.
This expedition isn’t just about climbing the highest mountains in the world however. Cienski is also undertaking the expedition to raise funds and awareness to fight human trafficking in the U.S., Nicaragua and other countries. He hopes to use these 14 grand stages to draw attention to this cause which is still a major issue even in the 21st century. In many developing countries the sale of children still takes place at an alarming rate.
In order for Mission 14 to succeed Cienski will need a lot more than just dedication and hard work – he’ll also need a healthy dose of good luck. Many expeditions fail not because the teams who attempt these mountains don’t possess the necessary skills but because something out of their control prevents them from getting to the top. Bad weather, unstable conditions and sickness can all lead to an aborted summit attempt, and with such an ambitious schedule, Cienski has little room for error. Personally, I don’t think it is possible to complete the 14 mountains in just two years simply because everything has to go perfectly in order to achieve the goal. But it will sure be interesting to see if he can give it a go over the next two years.
For a complete list of the 14 mountains Nick will be climbing, click here.
[Photo Credit: Carsten Nebel via WikiMedia]